Interview with the winner of the Innovation Competition: Thomas Bronzwaer

It is important to celebrate successes! We are very excited to interview Thomas Bronzwaer, winner of the Innovation Competition, about his start-up “Machine Precision“. What do they do exactly and what makes them so unique and innovative that they came in at first place?

What is the idea behind your startup ‘Machine Precision’?

“The idea of ​​Machine Precision is that we build software tools that allow engineers to work faster and make fewer mistakes. The initial idea came from my cofounder Daniel. He used to work at Boeing as an engineer and he was often asked to look for very specific technical parts. When searching for specific components, it is important to ask the right questions. Is the component big enough, how long will the part last, will it corrode quickly? He had to look up all these details in different catalogues. Combining this massive amount of data took him a lot of time. That’s where the idea for our company originates. We wanted to seamlessly merge the data from these different sources together and create a much more pleasant way to find technical parts.”

When did you decide that you wanted to become an entrepreneur?

“That’s a funny story, I followed somewhat of an erratic path as a student. First, I studied computer science, then I went to the USA and completed a second bachelor in aerospace engineering. After that, I started following a master’s degree in astronomy in Nijmegen and then continued as a PhD candidate in the same field. I met my ‘Machine Precision’ cofounder Daniel in engineering school in America and we have always kept in touch. We have been thinking about starting a business for over 10 years. Over the years, we have bounced many ideas off each other. Eventually we decided that the efficiency improvement that could be made at Boeing, and therefore at other engineering companies, was something we could create a good system for. He has the technical experience and I know how to tackle problems in a smart way. As a PhD candidate you learn how to conduct your own independent research. All the skills I have learned during my PhD, I can now implement as an entrepreneur. But the funny thing is, my PhD research on black holes has absolutely nothing to do with Machine Precision. Most successful scientists only focus on science. I myself have a broader interest, I don’t want to just sit in the books all day and think about what happened some 30,000 light years away.”

What made you enter the Innovation Competition?

“I first wanted to develop and set up ‘Machine Precision’ all by myself, unhindered by any knowledge of entrepreneurship. I was already talking to a large engineering company that was interested in my technology. I was very enthusiastic about this and contacted Mercator Launch who told me about the Innovation Competition. During the competition, I learned that my conversations with that engineering company were not going anywhere and I changed my entire product idea. You cannot immediately have Google as the first customer, it is much smarter to start with smaller companies. I had started building a prototype where the most logical customers turned out to be oil and gas companies, but I didn’t empathise with that industry at all. So, I had to think more holistically about my business idea. I wanted to approach aerospace companies and satellite builders. Focusing on a new industry luckily did not really change the nature of my product, because I keep combining data from different sources into a more efficient system. I use the same physics, but I have to go back to the drawing board to create a new prototype. Currently, I am participating in the IMPROVE programme of Mercator Launch where I will further validate my business idea with real customers. Tomorrow, I will go to a company for my first interview. I wonder what problems they have that I can respond to with my technique.”

What did winning the Innovation Competition bring you?

“First of all, it is a very nice confidence booster. I learned an awful lot and got a stamp of approval from entrepreneurial experts. But the most valuable thing I learned was how to set up a startup. I wanted to approach everything in a big way, but the Innovation Competition made me think about that in a completely different way. Mark Robinson’s Masterclass on pitching has also given me great insights. I have now found an office, at Mercator Launch, where I will continue working on my business idea. You shouldn’t be too careful and your idea doesn’t have to be completely perfect right away. You just have to talk to people, then it will take shape automatically.”

What are you hoping to learn during the IMPROVE programme?

“I really want to get in touch with more potential customers and find out what their challenges are. And how I can help them. I would also like to run a pilot and continue the IMPROVE programme with the Venture Track after I have completed the Discovery Track.”

What are the future plans for Machine Precision?

“If all goes well, I would like to work full-time on my company from next year on. At the moment, I just finished my PhD and I am working for the university. Mercator Launch helped me with looking at the Intellectual Property of the technique behind Machine Precision. Fortunately, I don’t need a patent. My cofounder Daniel came up with the original IP. I think he will play a bigger role in the business once it really gets off the ground. He knows many investors and companies in America and there is a lot of market potential there. Our dreams for “Machine Precision” are definitely big!”

Do you have an ultimate tip for (future) entrepreneurs?

“I’ve got two. First: the fundamental building block in the entrepreneurial world is ‘the deal’. It’s not the idea or the technology behind it. I focused a lot on the technology behind my idea but I never called anyone to ask them for tips or to pitch my idea. So please do that! And second, listen to experts who have been in the business world for some time, don’t be stubborn (like me) and think that you are special and that no one understands your situation or business idea. Welcome those tips, you are going to need them!”